The Widow's Mite - Sacrificial Giving or Highway Robbery?

I have often heard this story used to exhort people to give money sacrificially. However, I thought you all might be interested in an alternate interpretation my professor taught us in seminary that makes more sense out of the text to me.

Read the last bit of Luke 20 and beginning of Luke 21 without any chapter divisions or verse numbers and I think the story flows much better.

Excerpt from Luke 20-21:

While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”

As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

So, here is the scene. Jesus has just rebuked the teachers of the law for ‘devouring widows houses’. Now He turns - right then - and sees a poor widow giving - not just sacrificially - but literally all the money she had left to live on. Nowhere does Jesus actually commend this woman or say that her story has a happy ending. He just says that she has given more proportionally than the rich people. But he is rebuking the teachers of the law for devouring widows houses.

Does this story look more like sacrificial giving on the part of the widow or highway robbery on the part of the teachers of the law / temple priests??? What are your thoughts? Is the widow the hero, the victim or a bit of both?


I always saw that story as having to do with the conditions of the heart. The rich gave much for all the public to see how “righteous” they were while the poor woman is giving all she has because of her spiritual maturity and her character.

Just imagine her sitting at home and staring at the money in her hand, knowing that this is all she has. She has to choose between supper that evening or giving a gift to the temple treasury. In the end she gives all she has to the temple, despite the fact that she probably wouldn’t eat a meal for the next few days (if she had children).

She gave all she had to live on, yet gave it away. A skeptic looking at this would mock her. Heck, most Christians would disapprove. How many of us would be willing to do that? We have bills to pay and some of us have families to feed. Giving all we have is not an option. I’m not saying that we should give all we have. C.S. Lewis makes my point exactly:

“One more point and I am done. In the passage where the New Testament says that every one must work, it gives as a reason ‘in order that he may have something to give to those in need’. Charity–giving to the poor–is an essential part of Christian morality: in the frightening parable of the sheep and the goats it seems to be the point on which everything turns. Some people nowadays say that charity “ought to be unnecessary and that instead of giving to the poor we ought to be producing a society in which there were no poor to give to. They may be quite right in saying that we ought to produce this kind of society. But if anyone thinks that, as a consequence, you can stop giving in the meantime, then he has parted company with all Christian morality. I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words,’ if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charities expenditure excludes them.”


@O_wretched_man Great C. S. Lewis quote! Yes, that is a common view. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I think certainly the Christian call to take up your cross and follow Jesus does appear to be foolishness to the world. We have the resurrection, but from their perspective we are wasting the only life we have…

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…and from God’s perspective (really the only perspective that counts) we will be living in eternity, either with him or separated from him. It’s our choice.

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@O_wretched_man I don’t want to stray too far off topic, but I always feel the need to point out that God takes no pleasure even in the death of the wicked. How much less in some form of unending misery?

Ezekiel 33:11 - Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’

I don’t personally believe the Bible teaches that the wicked will suffer eternally - I believe they will face judgment day before Christ, be judged (whatever that means) and then be destroyed. But I think that we all must believe with D. L. Moody that when we speak of ‘Hell’, whatever we mean by it, we should do so with tears. I think the following from Ravenhill makes the point well.

Leonard Ravenhill wrote in Why Revival Tarries (p.32):

Charlie Peace was a criminal. Laws of God or man curbed him not. Finally the law caught up with him, and he was condemned to death. On the fatal morning in Armley Jail, Leeds, England, he was taken on the death-walk. Before him went the prison chaplain, routinely and sleepily reading some Bible verses. The criminal touched the preacher and asked what he was reading. “The Consolations of Religion,” was the replay. Charlie Peace was shocked at the way he professionally read about hell. Could a man be so unmoved under the very shadow of the scaffold as to lead a fellow-human there and yet, dry-eyed, read of a pit that has no bottom into which this fellow must fall? Could this preacher believe the words that there is an eternal fire that never consumes its victims, and yet slide over the phrase with a tremor? Is a man human at all who can say with no tears, “You will be eternally dying and yet never know the relief that death brings”? All this was too much for Charlie Peace. So he preached. Listen to his on-the-eve-of-hell sermon:

“Sir,” addressing the preacher, “if I believed what you and the church of God say that you believe, even if England were covered with broken glass from coast to coast, I would walk over it, if need be, on hands and knees and think it worthwhile living, just to save one soul from an eternal hell like that!


I tend to view this story from a slightly different perspective. While I have often looked at ‘giving’ as something which takes away from me, leaving me with less than what I had before, I have come to see ‘giving’ in God’s eyes as something which brings Him delight and He loves to ‘give back’. He loves a generous giver because He is one Himself. If I start from this perspective, then the widow did a smart thing. All she had were the 2 copper coins. How long would that have lasted her? I would imagine not very long. I see faith on her part that she would be provided for when she gives sacrificially. That shows her faith. Although it does not sound financially wise, for all practical purposes, the money would not have lasted for long and she would be left with nothing. So what is she to do?

By giving the money to God, her story is written in the Bible for generations to read and learn from. She did more with her 2 coins by giving them than she could ever have done by keeping them. I think that Jesus was talking about the condition of the heart - those who gave more in amount did not have the generosity of spirit that this woman had and her story is told for posterity:

"And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites. So He said, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.” (Luke 21:1-4).

She is not a victim. She’s praised on record for all to see and her action speaks of her steadfast faith in God that He would provide and not let her down.


@Helen_Tan Good response - certainly we should trust God rather than rely on money.

Proverbs 11:4 - Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death.

I think we want to praise the widow because we know that Biblically we should trust in God rather than money. I’m still not sure that in context the point is not a condemnation of the teachers of the law, but I understand well why we want to come to the defense of this widow who gave faithfully. Especially in the American context, it is easy to trust in money rather than God.


Helen, I feel the same way that you do about the widow and her mite. However, after reading your post, I see in a completely organized and fresh way. The way you put things together has given me a “fuller” perspective. I love this quote of yours:

"Although it does not sound financially wise, for all practical purposes, the money would not have lasted for long and she would be left with nothing. So what is she to do?

By giving the money to God, her story is written in the Bible for generations to read and learn from. She did more with her 2 coins by giving them than she could ever have done by keeping them. I think that Jesus was talking about the condition of the heart - those who gave more in amount did not have the generosity of spirit that this woman had and her story is told for posterity."

Thanks Helen. You are a gifted sister that I always learn so much from.


I’ve not heard any preachers use this passage to extort money - but then I don’t listen to prosperity gospel televangelists that ask listeners to buy them $54 million dollar private jets. In my view, this brings the name of Christ into disrepute, as Jesus, the son of man had nowhere to lay his head, and we are called to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow him. Offerings for private jets seem very questionable at best :frowning:

I was brought up with a tithe as the amount given to support the local church, and then some extra for missions giving. The passage ‘do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing’ was raised as importance as the correct way to give - anonymously, so that God has the receiver’s worship and thankfulness.

I’ve heard an Andy Stanley message give what seems to be a balanced view of giving - a percentage is good, start small and make it sustainable. But he then gave an interesting story of carrying your own burdens vs carrying the burdens of others in Galatians 6:2 and 6:5 – if you are watering your neighbours garden and making their lawn nice and green but yours is full of weeds then you have your priorities out of balance. You need to learn to carry your own load first (normal everyday life things like keeping a job, paying your bills, looking after your family), and then you can help carry anothers burdens (that is help with major life trauma like death, serious illness, huge life events that nobody can carry alone and need help with). He warned against carrying anothers everyday load because you’re enabling them to be irresponsible, and your depleting your own family at their expense.

I’ve also heard another recent speaker at our church mens retreat say: Self-indulgence leads to selfishness, which is sin. Self-denial is a road to spiritual vitality, when used biblically.

I’ve now started to think about giving as stewardship - everything we have and are, are from God. Money and skills are things that can be used for yourself, or can be used for others. Of course logically if your own personal health is completely neglected, how can you help others in a meaningful way?

If the story of the widows mite is what Jesus commended as the highest % given of herself - she has given all she has then we can wisely work towards that, but with all our responsibilities in view and balance. My areas of responsibility is father, husband, son, son-in-law, local church participant, useful member of society.

The Bible project guys mention that God is concerned primarily with our love for him to be shown by our love for others. ‘Love God, and love others as yourself’
1 John 4:2 If a man say, “I love God,” and hateth his brother, he is a liar. For he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? , and also in
James 2:16 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?


@matthew.western I like Stanley’s point there about watering your own garden. I Timothy makes this point both for us as individuals and for the Church as a whole - we must be wise in how we steward the resources we have been given. Of course I think we have to read this passage in context - some people really are trying to provide for their families but are struggling - that is not at all what Paul had in mind. He is talking about those who are simply neglecting their responsibility.

I Timothy 5:6-10 - But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives. 7 Give the people these instructions, so that no one may be open to blame. 8 Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

9 No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, 10 and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.

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Absolutely, and it’s so easy to slip into pride and think, oh i can hold down a job and pay my bills regularly. I’m ‘watering my lawn’ well, and now I can help others. Pride can sneak in so quick. The fact is, working in IT is a highly paid profession, and I’m hugely thankful for it. God has given everything, and has made me this way, to be even able to understand IT and technical things. God has blessed me with health to be even able to hold a job down. This is where I think it’s time to challenge ourselves and stop thinking ‘this part of my life is for me, and this part of my life is for God’ - it’s all God’s and he’s loaned it to us to use to further his Kingdom. This possibly connects to the widows mite - she has given all that she has??

Unfortunately, it seems in Australia, job security is becoming more scarce, and there is a rise of casual and part time work. The housing market is almost out of reach for anybody wanting to buy a house. It seems in any system of culture, the weak are easily oppressed by the rich, all in legal ways of course with rich people able to buy multiple investment properties and keep young people out of the housing market and always needing to rent. Human nature has not changed. Makes me think of the ‘The Way of the Exile’ video from the BibleProject - how do we stay ‘in the world, but not of the world’. Real wisdom is needed on how to balance all this…

And of course, in the developed world, we have it sooo easy. Jesus teaching about ‘not worrying about food or clothes, but to put the kingdom of Heaven first’ actually was what people were concerned about. In the first world, we are so rich as a society it’s ridiculous - and I’m hugely thankful for advances in health, medicine, and technology. I don’t remember ever worrying about whether I would have clothes to wear. We worry about a loss of living standards, or even going backwards a little bit financially.


@matthew.western When I read history I am thankful to God for so many things - freedom of worship, a clean place to live, a government that is not unduly oppressive… And yet my heart aches for those in the world who still lack those things. I look forward to the day when Jesus reigns as King and justice truly is done from sea to sea and the glory of God is our light. Maranatha!


I first came across this idea during a pre-seminar lunch in college, and the passage has since taken on new depths for me. I do believe that the story is meant as a criticism, because if we read a bit further, we read the following (Luke 21:5-6, NIV):

"Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”

So the account of the widow’s offering is actually a sandwich structure, preceded by a criticism of the teachers of the Law who pressure her to give, then followed by the announcement that what she has been pressured to give toward is doomed to destruction. It highlights just how poorly the teachers lived out the Law they preach. While the Law commanded provision for widows through the tithes (Deuteronomy 14:28-29), here we see a well-meaning widow being manipulated into giving what little she has to feed the pride of the teachers of the law; in the end, though, the curses of the Law caught up with them (Deuteronomy 27:19), and their city and temple were reduced to rubble.

One other facet worth considering: Much like modern philanthropists, some of the rich men who brought portions of their wealth to fill the temple treasury no doubt gave out of noble motives. Many others, however, were likely hoping that through their sizable contributions, their names would be memorialized. The widow who brought in a fraction of a penny could not possibly have had such hopes, and yet she was immortalized in Scripture for the generosity of her heart, while the donors of larger sums are long forgotten. It just goes to show how different God’s perception of importance is from our own.


@MicahB Very thoughtful analysis - I think you are right on target in both recognizing Jesus’ criticism of the corrupt temple system and also the generosity of the widow.


It would seem to me that the comparison Jesus is making highlights what she has left. In light of Luke 12:22-34, it would seem that she trusts God for everything and does not depend on the meager amount of money she had. The amount was so small, it does not seem likely for her to be able to support herself long by it alone. This passage reminds me that she has all she needs:

James 2:5 NASB
[5] Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?


Hi Sean, great post! Well, what would YOU do if you saw the widow giving all she had to live on? Wouldn’t you give her back her money and the offering you were giving as well? Doesn’t God say, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice?” And, “Whatever you do for the least of these, you do unto Me?”

I understand giving to the local church but feed the hungry who are right in front of you first. Have a blessed day, Carmen

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Oh for sure, i never meant to portray that He does. Whether Hell is eternal separation from God or they are judged and destroyed doesn’t change the fact that, well, I don’t want to be there to find out! Or anyone else for that matter!

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@O_wretched_man I hear you - I’ve always thought I would not enjoy being present for the judgment of the wicked.

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Greetings all

I was asked a question this weekend by a friend on tithing and cherry picking the law from the OT. She asked me what’s the bible position is on tithe, if i tithe and why. I realised that my answer might not have been clear cut. I do tithe, “because i a giving back to God, what is His” and gave her a few biblical references. However i don’t think this answered her questions. Being in a context where the idea behind tithe and offering is distorted by the prosperity gospel, i need help with a clearer biblical position.


@dionkandima In the Old Testament the Israelites gave a tenth of their income to support the priestly class, who had no way to make money. That is why there is no requirement for us to give a tenth in the New Testament - because there is no more priestly class and we are no longer bound by the civil laws that governed Israel.

In the New Testament we give to God’s Church and to those in need as a way of sowing into God’s Kingdom and we do so not out of compulsion, but out joy to share in God’s work in the world.

2 Cor 9:6-7 - The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.